Some 20,000 migrant workers toil in the green and fertile lands that roll gently through our diocese. That is a large number to be sure — one indicating that immigration reform is very much a local issue. But 20,000 is just that: a number.
Behind that statistic, behind the fruits and vegetables they harvest and that we delightfully sort through at the grocery, are families like yours and like mine. They are mothers and fathers who want for their children what all parents want — safety, security, peace, and prosperity. They are children who pray their parents will not have to work so very hard in the summer sun or autumn damp. They are people all, who simply wish to pursue what generation after generation of immigrants has come to America to find: a happy life, an opportunity and blessed liberty.
You see, for all the wrangling over immigration reform in Congress over this bill or that, we can quickly forget that all this debate is about human beings — and in the current climate frightened ones, to be sure. It is very much about how a nation built by immigrants welcomes others, treats others, deals fairly and squarely with all the issues of concern for America — while never forgetting that it is the fate of people we are debating ultimately, not line items, legal clauses or politics.
I do not want to add to the polarization here. But I do wish to let you know why immigration reform is a matter of importance and urgency for the church, and present to you the guiding principles we pray will ultimately prevail. If you feel so inclined, I ask you to educate yourself in depth about the issue, beyond the media reports, and contact your representatives in Washington to voice your opinion. A helpful church-sponsored resource can be found online at www.justiceforimmigrants.org
In the pastoral letter “Strangers No Longer, Together on the Journey of Hope,” the bishops of the United States and Mexico summarized our Catholic viewpoint on this issue succinctly: “Our common faith in Jesus Christ moves us to search for ways that favor a spirit of solidarity. It is a faith that transcends borders and bids us to overcome all forms of discrimination and violence so that we may build relationships that are just and loving.”
What must reform look like to achieve this end?
* Reform must be comprehensive: We cannot take a narrow, restrictive one-dimensional approach, as was contained in the House-passed measure. We must deal fairly with all the issues such as what to do about undocumented immigrants working and living in the U.S., legalized forms of entry, and enforcement that is not overly harsh and respects the dignity of people.
* Reform must strengthen security but also not slam shut the doors of our nation: Security is a crucial issue, but we must never become overzealous to the point that we become indifferent to the plight of hard-working families and others who pose no threat — that we never cease to say the words emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
* Reform must provide a pathway to residency and citizenship: The undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. must be given the opportunity to earn the right to stay and apply for citizenship if they satisfy certain criteria, including that they are not criminals and pose no security threat.
* Reform must provide for worker visas and protections: There must be greater legal means by which needed workers can be admitted to fill available jobs. People must be able to enter and work in a safe, orderly, and dignified manner.
* Reform must keep families intact: We must end the visa backlogs that have long separated families. Our immigration laws must ensure that family unity is facilitated and supported.
Pray with me that, above all, our lawmakers are ever-mindful of the human element in this debate so that justice for all will follow. Such concern for our fellow beings is, of course, at the very core of our Christian beliefs. Our faith teaches us that we must love not only God but also our neighbor.
In his first encyclical, “God is Love,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show this love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much He loves me.”
Let love of neighbor — for our sisters and brothers in Christ — be the guiding light that will lead to God-inspired immigration reform that preserves, protects and defends not just our nation but also the dignity of all human beings.
Peace to all,